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The ancient Hebrew and Greek versions of Psalms 40:6 are quite different. The Hebrew version says 'my ears you have opened' whilst the Greek LXX has 'a body you restored to me'. Furthermore in Hebrews the LXX is quoted as part of an argument that God never intended the sacrifices of animals to atone eternally for any sins but that this was predicted to be taken on by the Messiah 'who had a body prepared for him', for this final atonement.

My question is how did the LXX possibly interpret the Hebrew text in this way?

Hebrew Based Translation

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened— burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. (The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 40:6–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)

Greek Based Translation in the LXX

7* You did not want sacrifice and offering, but a body you restored to me. You did not ask for whole burnt offering, and an offering concerning sin. 8* Then I said, “Behold, I have arrived. In the scroll of the book it has been written concerning me. (Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ps 39:7–8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

Note: I did do some research and found out that there is evidence to support ancient Rabbinical application of this Psalm to the Messiah. This fact might help explain the LXX version but it does not seem obvious by any means.

Gen. 4:25. The language of Eve at the birth of Seth: ‘another seed,’ is explained as meaning ‘seed which comes from another place,’ and referred to the Messiah in Ber. R. 23 (ed. Warsh. p. 45 b, lines 8, 7 from the bottom). The same explanation occurs twice in the Midrash on Ruth 4:19 (in the genealogy of David, ed Warsh. p. 46 b), the second time in connection with Ps. 40:8 (‘in the volume of the book it is written of me’—bim’gillath sepher—Ruth belonging to the class מגלת). (Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 2, p. 711). APPENDIX 9 LIST OF OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES MESSIANICALLY APPLIED IN ANCIENT RABBINIC WRITINGS)

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I'm not sure the messianic use of the LXX in the first century AD-onward is really relevant to understanding why the LXX differs from the Hebrew. At the very least, that should be a separate question (for Christianity.SE?). – Mark Edward May 26 '14 at 15:51
@MarkEdward According to his reputation, I suspect that Mike is familiar with the type of questions here. – Paul Vargas May 26 '14 at 19:06
@PaulVargas I agree with Mark on this one - but answers are free to take a number of perspectives, including disagreeing with the source cited. – Dan May 27 '14 at 1:28
FYI: My reason for providing some partial research is not to direct the answer to a predetermined acceptable one, but to simply state an observation that may or may not be included in an answer. It is simply to pass on something I found out that might, or may not be considered relevant. – Mike May 27 '14 at 6:53
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Idea in Brief

The Hebrew verb to pierce (כָּרָה = H3738) in Psalm 40:6 is the same triliteral root for the Hebrew verb to prepare (כָּרָה = H3739). For example, this second verb (כָּרָה = H3739) appears translated in 2 Ki 6:23 as "prepared." In other words, both verbs have the exact same triliteral root, but have different meanings. The LXX translators had thus understood the verb in this verse not as H3738 ("pierced"), but as H3739 ("prepared").

Additionally the LXX translators understood the word "ears" as metonymy for obedience. Thus the proper rendering in Hebrew would be that the Lord prepared the ears of David for obedience to the Lord. In contradistinction, the ears of King Saul were unprepared:

1 Sam 15:22 (NASB)
22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

In the passage of Psalm 40:6, the LXX translators did not limit the idea to the unstopping or unclogging of the ears of David, which would have been the translation of (כָּרָה = H3738), which means to pierce (or to dig into, as if unstopping of unclogging the ears). The LXX translators went farther: they understood that the Lord had prepared (כָּרָה = H3739) the ears of David in order for him to hear the voice of the Lord, and thus to obey. If and when the ears obey, then the whole person follows, and in this regard King David as a person (his whole body) was a type of living sacrifice to the Lord.


First, many modern commentaries understand the context here to refer to the piercing of the ear and/or lobe(s), and in this regard make reference to Ex 21:6 and Deut 15:17, where the ear (singular) is pierced on the doorpost. Keil and Delitzsch (1996), however, indicate that Biblical Hebrew does not support such an interpretation. Instead, Keil and Delitzsch argue that the correct understanding of this verse has to do with the obedience enabled by the Lord, which is consistent with the contrast found 1 Sam 15:22. This verse references the disobedience of King Saul, whose ears were not "listening" -

1 Sam 15:22 (NASB)
22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

Second, The NETS (New English Translation) of the LXX for the Book of Psalms relies on the Greek edition of Alfred Rahlfs (1931), Psalmi cum Odis (Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Academiae Litterarum Gottingensis editum X), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967. According to the preface of the NETS translation, the version from Rahlfs is the most reliable text of the Psalms in Greek extant. The translation in English therefore appears as follows:

Psalm 39:7(6) (NETS)
7(6) Sacrifice and offering you did not want,
but ears you fashioned for me.
Whole burnt offering and one for sin
you did not request.

NOTE: LXX Psalm 39:7(6) = Psalm 40:6 of the Masoretic Text

According to apparatus criticus of Rahlfs' Septuaginta (upon which the NETS translation was based), the following appears:

enter image description here

According to this citation, Rahlfs relied on the text rendering of ὠτία, which (according to the apparatus criticus) had stemmed from the Psalterium Gallicanum (as noted by the abbreviation "Ga"), which is the Latin translation of the Psalms by Jerome in the Fourth Century. That is, Jerome had relied on the Greek of the Hexapla, which Origen of Alexandria had compiled in the Third Century. In this regard, the Greek of the Hexapla predated the Codex Vaticanus (c. Fourth Cent.), Codex Sinaiticus (c. Fourth Cent.), and Codex Alexandrinus (c. Fifth Cent.), upon which the variant readings of this verse are based. In other words, Rahlfs leaned more toward the earliest appearance of this verse in Greek of the Hexapla, which reflected the reading of "ears" (ὠτία) instead of "body" (σῶμα).

However, when we look at other writings of Origen who had compiled the Hexapla (which no longer exists in its complete original), we see other nuances, which warrant more attention. That is, Origen wrote his Commentary on the Epistle of Romans, which still exists, and in this commentary he mentions the context of Psalm 40:6 in terms not of "ears," but of "body." In his commentary of Romans 12:1, which speaks of the daily sacrifice of the body in devotion to the Lord, Origen writes the following (with emphases added).

Please click the image to enlarge.

enter image description here

Origen mentions neither "ears" nor "body," but appears to take Psalm 40:6 in the same way that Keil and Delitzsch understand the Psalm: that is, the "ears" would be metonymy for obedience, and thus the image of the "body" as the "prepared" sacrifice.

In summary, what we may infer from this data is that the proto-Hebrew Text had indeed mentioned the "ears" (as Origen made clear in his Hexapla), however, the key verb in the verse seems to have more to do with H3739 ("prepared") than with H3738 ("pierced"), and therefore the "ears" would be metonymy for obedience, which is what the LXX translation and Christian New Testament indicate.


The apparent difference of translation between the LXX and the Masoretic Text of Psalm 40:6 may leave doubts as to whether or not the proto-Hebrew Text had ever mentioned "ears," since the word "body" is instead mentioned by three very reliable LXX codices (Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus). However, one significant key to understanding this passage comes from Origen of Alexandria. That is, on the one hand, he is the earliest witness extant who indicates in his Hexapla that the proto-Hebrew texts had used the word "ears" and not "body." On the other hand, Origen interprets the meaning of the verse to say the "body" is "prepared" (as a living sacrifice), which is the meaning found in the three principal codices of the LXX and the Christian New Testament (see Heb 10:5).

In conclusion, while Origen had a reputation for interpreting Scripture in very wide brush-strokes, in this particular instance he appears to bridge the gap between the literal Hebrew Text reading ("ears"), and the amplified translation of the LXX ("body") as found in the major codices of the LXX. (As already noted this view finds support with Keil and Delitzsch.) In other words, Origen had recognized the literal text rendering of "ears" (per the Hexapla), but he also had understood the triliteral root כָּרָה meaning not to pierce (כָּרָה = H3738), but to prepare (כָּרָה = H3739). Because of this nuance of the Hebrew verb, Origen seems to indicate (like Keil and Delitzsch) that "ears" in the Hebrew Text would be metonymy for obedience, which therefore appears as "body" in the three principal codices of the LXX and in the Christian New Testament as well.

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Hey a lot of good effort went into this answer. Really good job! – Mike May 18 '15 at 15:02

I could be wrong but I believe you are assuming that the LXX is translated from the Masoretic and thus this would seem a poor translation of the MT, However, The 72 translators of the LXX did not use the MT to translate the LXX. There is not a surviving copy of the Hebrew that the LXX was translated from and thus your question as I understand it cannot be answered.

The LXX was translated about 270 years before Christ during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.). The MT was not translated until the 8th to 10th century and the oldest copy dates back to the 10th century, thus it would be impossible for the LXX to be translated from the Masoretic.

Here is one citation from

Our first Proponent covered is from the Introduction to The Septuagint Bible, as translated into the English language by Charles Thomson in 1808, which gives us much insight into some previously unpublicized history and facts concerning the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Septuagint texts of the Old Testament. Some of its more important points read as follows:

"By the end of the first century of the Christian era—the first of several to be filled with fierce religious controversies—the official Hebrew biblical text had already become considerably altered from what it was in the third, or for that matter in the second or first centuries preceding the Christian era,—thus furnishing grist for the controversial mill, by enabling post-Christian Jewish proponents to answer any opponents who might quote from the Septuagint Bible text, by saying that it was "not the same" as the Hebrew. Of course it was not, for the Hebrew text had changed during the first century of the Christian era, as even a cursory examination of the older and later texts will prove. To cite one of the striking instances of such alterations, "the angels of God" in the ancient Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 32:8 became "the children of Israel" in the post-christian Hebrew version. As Swete after a survey of the evidence concludes:

"At some time between the age of the LXX and that of Aquila (ca. 125A.D.) a thorough revision of the Hebrew Bible must have taken place, probably under official direction; and the evidence seems to point to the Rabbinical school which had its center in Jamnia in the years that followed the fall of Jerusalem as the source from which this revision proceeded. Among the Rabbis of Jamnia were Eleazar, Joshua, and Akiba, the reputed teachers of Aquila." H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, op. cit., p.320

Here is the link to a site that compares the MT (OTKJV) the LXX (Brentons) and the NT (KJV):

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Lots of confusion here. First: the story of 70 translators is a legend, not history. Second: What do you mean with "The MT was not translated until the 8th to 10th century"? Translated from what language to what language? Third: Have you ever heard of Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls)? – fdb May 12 '15 at 17:29
plus 1 as you could be right, or the text that was used could have been the same as tha Masoretic, guess we can never know. i was hoping someone who was familiar with the Hebrew might have a good conjecture one way or the other – Mike May 12 '15 at 23:50
Any History not in the Bible could then be considered "legend" as the Bible is the only definitive truth. Tertullian has recorded the "legend" of the LXX and also stated that he saw the huts that the 72 not 70 stayed in. The point is that the LXX was translated before the MT was copied and edited so the LXX could not have been translated from the MT which answered the Q being asked. It would seem that since the NT quoted this passage from the LXX word for word and the MT says something completely different, that the LXX has the true translation of Ps40:7 and the MT of Ps40:6 is poor copy/edit – JMW May 13 '15 at 2:43
The text that was used to translate the LXX could not be the same as the MT. This is why the two read so differently. There are hundred of differences between the MT and the LXX. Dig deeper by looking into the link I just gave you. If you end up disagreeing with the info presented there at least you will have confronted the evidence that opposes your view and you will be able to better defend the view that you form by studying both sides of the issue. The issue being, What is the better text, the LXX or the MT, and which one harmonizes all of scripture the best. IMO it would be the LXX. – JMW May 13 '15 at 4:15
But surely we can agree that the text the LXX used and the MT have a common origin if we go back far enough. So we can still try and discover if there's anything in the Hebrew language that would at least make the variation understandable. Or maybe the MT was the same as what the LXX translated but they changed the wording for a reason. Arguing over when and who and legends or not seems irrelevant to what the question is really asking. – Joshua May 13 '15 at 17:31

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